The Democrat, the last of the late John F. Kennedy’s brothers, died on Tuesday (25Aug09) following a long battle with the disease.
A statement from the Kennedy family reads, “Edward M. Kennedy, the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply, died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port (Massachusetts). We’ve lost the irreplaceable centre of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever.”
Born in Boston in 1932, Kennedy was the youngest of Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Kennedy’s nine children.
He served two years in the U.S. military from 1951 to 1953 and, after completing degrees at Harvard University and the University of Virginia Law School in the 1950s, he entered politics as part of his brother John’s successful campaign for presidency in 1960.
Kennedy himself was elected into the U.S. Senate in 1962 as the representative for his home state of Massachusetts, a position he held until his death, making him the third longest-serving senator of all time and the second most senior member of the Senate after West Virginia’s Robert Byrd, 91.
He was best known for his oratory skills and his eulogy for his brother Robert, who was assassinated in 1968, remains one of his most memorable speeches.
He ran for office in 1980 but lost the Democratic Party’s nomination to the incumbent Jimmy Carter, who went on to lose the election to Republican Ronald Reagan.
Kennedy, nicknamed The Lion of the Senate due to his long service, championed health and immigration reforms and played a key role in the passing of legislation such as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the National Cancer Act of 1971 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
He was also a major voice in the push for national health insurance, a campaign spurred on by the back pain he struggled with for years as a result of a 1964 plane crash that left him seriously injured. He continued to fight for the cause after Barack Obama took office in January 2009, bringing the topic to the fore within months of the Illinois Senator’s inauguration.
However, Kennedy’s career was not without controversy.
In 1969, Kennedy hit the headlines when he drove his car off a bridge and landed in the water off Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts. The accident claimed the life of his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, a former campaign worker for his brother Senator Robert F. Kennedy, but the politician failed to report the incident to police.
When the body of Kopechne was found, he pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident after causing injury and Kennedy was given a suspended sentence – a punishment which is widely thought to have cost him any chance of securing the White House.
His first marriage to Virginia Joan Bennett in 1958 produced three children – Kara Anne, Edward Jr., and Patrick – but their relationship was blighted by her alcoholism and his womanising ways, leading to divorce in 1981.
He went on to marry divorced mother-of-two Victoria Anne Reggie in 1992, and she is credited with helping to stabilise Kennedy’s wild ways and get his Senate career back on track.
Kennedy’s final years in public office saw the Senator take more of a backseat to political affairs after he suffered a seizure in May last year (08). The hospitalisation led to the discovery of a malignant tumour and he underwent numerous chemotherapy and radiotherapy sessions in a bid to prolong his chances of survival.
He returned to his beachfront home in Hyannis Port earlier this year (09) to spend his final months with friends and family.
Among his many political awards and achievements was the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which Kennedy received in August (09).
He was also awarded an honorary knighthood by British monarch Queen Elizabeth II for his services to U.S. and U.K. relations earlier this year.
Kennedy’s death comes exactly two weeks after the passing of his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
Shriver, the founder of the Special Olympics and the mother of California First Lady Maria Shriver, died on 11 August (09) at the age of 88.